Gary Martin Opens Up on Sub-4, His Training, Newbury Park, and Being Called the “Nerd Runner”
May 25, 2022
Jim Ryun and Gary Martin.
Those are the only two men to ever go sub-4 minutes in a high school mile race without a rabbit. And Gary Martin is the faster of the two.
The Archbishop Wood senior ran 3:57.98 to go sub-4 on May 14th.
It might be fitting that Martin joined Ryun in the sub-4 without a rabbit club, because he, like Ryun, trains on a cinder track. Very old school.
While Martin may be old school on the track, off the track he’s a true student of the sport, and today that means devouring track and field on the internet. Martin is a guy who ran his own Philadelphia 76ers news account on Instagram. He’s leaned into being called the “nerd runner,” and has some big plans in store for the rest of his season and in the future where he’ll be running next year for the University of Virginia and famed coach Vin Lananna.
Martin was the guest on the LetsRun.com Track Talk Podcast this week. We’ve typed up some of the highlights of our talk with him below, which have been edited and rearranged for clarity.
But we recommend you listen to the podcast, which you can find here on your favorite podcast player. (Gary joins us at the 71:29 mark)
The 3:57.98 Without a Rabbit
LetsRun.com: You shared this really cool text exchange with your coach, Paul Streleckis, a few days before the race saying you said, “Am I crazy for thinking about trying to break four at PCL champs if the weather is good since the mile is first?” I’m curious what ended up happening in the days in between that and when did you make the decision that going for sub-four in that race was something you really wanted to do?
That was a text I sent, I think it was, I want to say Wednesday morning. The wheels started to turn probably Tuesday night because I had just got done a workout, a tempo workout, and it was one of the best workouts I’ve had all year, probably one of the best in my life, and I just … I felt really strong. And, I might not … I don’t know what an average tempo run is for someone my age or capability, so I don’t know how impressive it is, but for me, it was very impressive because I haven’t always been the best at tempos. But, it was a three-mile tempo in, I think, 14:30, and then a 10-minute jog, and then a two-mile tempo in, like, 9:45. For where I’m at and what I’ve done in past tempos, that was a big deal for me and I felt super strong.
And, the guy I did the tempo with, Paul Matuszak, he had actually pointed out, like, “Hey, the weather is going to look nice on Saturday. Any chance you’re thinking about going for sub-four?” And, my first response was, “No, I don’t think so. I’m just going to go out and score points for the team.” But then after that workout, the more I thought about it, the more I was like, “Hey, I really think I’m in shape to do it. This is probably the last real chance before State, so maybe I just float the idea out there, see what my coach thinks, and maybe I’ll go for it.” So, like, I sent that text the next morning [laughs].
So, when you’re coming down the home straight, are you thinking, “I’m probably going to get it,” or do you have any idea how fast you’re running at that point?
I didn’t know how close I was, but if I’m being honest, I … this might … Not to sound cocky, but, I think I knew I had it at about 1,000 meters because when I ran 4:00, when I ran 4:01, I came through 1,000 in I want to say either 2:30 or 2:31, and I was like, “All right, I’m going to have to kick. Let’s see if I can do it.” Where for the 3:57, I came through in 2:27, and I’m like, “I feel just as good now as I did in the other two miles, so I know I have at least a 60-second last lap in me.” So, to that point, I was like, I’m pretty confident I have this wrapped up, but let’s finish strong. Let’s go as far under as possible and let’s see what I can run.
How did you celebrate that night? What did you do to celebrate the 3:57?
It’s funny because this was … this was one of the craziest days of my life. My phone died right after, so my phone was blowing up. I didn’t really get to check text messages from congratulations and stuff, and then right after … It would have been nice to kind of sit down and kind of take it all in, but I actually ended up driving home and then literally getting changed and going right back out to my school for our … It’s our school Vikingthon which, I don’t know, it’s popular at Penn State… it’s a fundraiser for childhood cancer. So, I went to that and I was at my school until about 10:30 that night just kind of hanging out with friends, playing some basketball, and cornhole, and stuff.
His Training and Newbury Park
One of the things that’s capturing everyone’s imagination is just how you’ve done it as a normal high schooler. You ran Penn Relays, you went to prom. You run sub-four, you go to the fundraiser, whereas other kids are going to altitude. Newbury Park is probably the greatest cross country team ever, but a couple of the kids aren’t even running the state meet. So, what made you do it sort of the old-fashioned way, if anything?
I mean, it’s definitely something I’ve thought about, especially … when I first started to commit myself to the sport, probably, I would even say summer of 2020, like, when I realized I had potential but I wasn’t quite there. I got a little, I’ll admit it, I got too caught up in stuff on the internet, going online and reading this guy has this trainer and he’s running this many miles and maybe I’m not running as many miles as him, so maybe I should be running more and maybe I should be going out and getting my own coach and personal trainer. Maybe it’s necessary. But, the more I continued to train and just do my own thing, I started to realize that what I was doing was working and successful training comes in different forms for everyone. So, if what you’re doing is working, you should probably stick with it and I was lucky enough to have a support base from my family and my coach, and my high school coach, Paul.
Like I said, his training was working for me, so I started to realize that, “Hey, I’m getting better. There’s no need to go out and get my own coach.” And, I don’t have anything … I don’t have anything against it. Like, I know other high schools aren’t afforded the same opportunities and aren’t as lucky to have such a great coach at their school. So, I know some kids have to go out and get their own coaching.
But, I think there’s something to be said if something is working, sticking with it. I think a lot of kids maybe can get caught up in the noise on social media and what’s going on online, and seeing all these top runners doing all this crazy training and stuff and want to emulate it. But, really, if what you’re doing is working, just stick with it is my thoughts on it.
What are the key aspects of your training? What’s your mileage like these days? What are your favorite workouts? What are your strengths in workouts? And, what are your weaknesses?
So, my mileage this year it’s pretty consistently been in the 40s, touching low 50s. I mean, the past couple weeks, I’m in a little bit of a build phase, so I’ve been low 50s the past two weeks, and then this week, I’ll probably be down a little bit, just because it’s been a lot of racing between PCLs and then, even though it’s just qualifying, I had districts the past few days. So, I’m feeling a little banged up. So, I’m probably going to be low 40s this week. So, track season, it’s very fluid, honestly. My coach, he trusts me enough and I trust him enough where if I feel like I need a day off, I take a day off. Like, it’s a flexible schedule. And, some weeks I’ll be high 20s in the mile. Some weeks, I’ll be high 50s. But, when I say high 50s, it’s not that often. It’s usually if I’m really in a build phase. But, I usually do settle in that, that 40-mile range.
What kind of workouts do you like to do? Do you have a favorite?
Uh, it’s funny because I think my favorite workout was always intervals – like 400s, 800s, even 300s, stuff like that. And, 300s, 150s are a good staple of our workout just to work on that mile race pace. Or, 300s at least. Like, 300s at 44, 45, just kind of cranking those out. 150s faster, like, 150s at 18 and 19 seconds, just throw those in at the end of a workout, or if I’m having a little bit of a lighter workout, just do those and get some speed work in.
But, I also like the tempo-paced intervals, like, we’ll do a Michigan workout, or a variation of that every now and then. And, tempo workouts in general, actually, up until this year, I’d say they were my least favorite workout because I was not good at them. But, it’s funny because I’ve seen such a huge improvement from this time last year to now in how I’m able to do tempo runs and I’ve seen obviously such a big improvement in my fitness, racing the mile and stuff as well, that I think it’s turned into one of my favorite workouts.
Goals, Kicking, And His Glasses
Do you have a goal [for the rest of the season]? There’s the 3:53 Alan Webb [high schoo] record. Is that a big priority for you, a showdown with Colin Sahlman who has also broken 4:00 this year? What is the number one priority?
It’s funny because, you mentioned those two things, like, running against someone like Colin Sahlman or going after the 3:53 and, obviously, that’d be great. If the opportunity comes up, I’d love to either race Colin or go after that mile, but at the same time, I feel like I’ve learned the past month, especially in the past two months or so, not to get caught up on one specific large goal and to really just go forward with training, let the training run its course, and then let the performances speak for themselves. So, I think that’s what I’m kind of going to keep doing. I have a lot of confidence in myself right now. I think I can throw down a lot faster of a mile than I’ve already run. But, I’m not going to stress too much about going about any one specific goal or record and I’m going to just keep getting better keep racing, keep racing, keep getting PRs, and hopefully get some PRs across multiple events.
On running with his trademark glasses
As I’m getting more attention in the running world, it’s kind of become part of my identity, which I kind of like to lean into it. It’s cool. It’s crazy to me, like, I get this notoriety for being the runner with glasses, but it’s really cool… it’s funny because … I’ve been called … I’ve seen stuff like, “the nerd runner” or stuff like that which I think is funny. It’s hard to get to me, so any time I get made fun of or … there’s obviously nice comments, too, but even the stuff, people joking about it, I think it’s funny. [laughs] I’ll take whatever attention I can get for it, so it’s pretty funny to me.
What is the biggest you’ve ever thrown down on the last 400? Because if you get in one of these championship-style races, maybe with, Sahlman, it might be a big last lap. So, have you ever run a mile with a big last lap?
It’s funny because I’ve heard from some people in the sport does he have this kick where, if he gets in a hot race, will he be able to kick in with these guys? And, I think, obviously, even for me, it’s yet to be seen. I’ll be honest. I’d be lying if I said I’d been in a big race where I’ve gone and thrown down a 55 or something for the last lap. But, I’ll just put the numbers out there. New Balance Indoor Nationals, when I ran 4:02, I closed in 57.4, around there, which was a pretty good kick for me. And then, I ran my district meet, it wasn’t a super hard effort, but the strategy at my district meet on Wednesday was just run 64s and then close for the last lap. And, I closed that in, I think, 55.02.
So, obviously, it’s way different running 60s and then throwing out a hard last lap than it is running 64s and then throwing down a hard last lap. But, I’ve run 49-point for 400, I’ve run 1:49 for 800. I know I have the leg speed. I think in the right race with adrenaline, having competition, I can throw down a kick because another thing I will mention, too, I prefer running even splits when I’m alone and solo because it’s easier for me to find my pace early on and settle into that rhythm, rather than go a little slower and then get the adrenaline all by my own.
It’s something I’d like to work on, but it can be hard to gather that really adrenaline and momentum for a last kick when you’re by yourself, where if I know I’m in shape, I just like to settle into that rhythm early and find that pace and run it when I’m solo. I know this is a really long-winded answer to the question, but, I think in the right race, hopefully I can throw down a fast kick, 55, 56, because I’ve done it in some slower races and I know I have the speed for it.
Gary, is there anything we haven’t gotten out of you that you want to share with the world?
I don’t think so. I’ll just say thank you to everyone for the support recently. It’s been crazy to see all the support online and on [laughs] LetsRun and stuff from people. I know on the message boards, I don’t read them that often, but I’ve seen some stuff, and it’s cool to see support and I appreciate everything. So, thank you for having me on, too.
These are just some of the highlights from our talk with Gary. For what he thinks of the current crop of 1500m stars in the US – Cooper Teare, Cole Hocker and Matthew Centrowitz, plus his interaction with Jim Ryun, listen to the podcast here on your favorite podcast player. (To get the full talk with Gary as a standalone podcast and with not just the highlights become a LetsRun.com Supporters Club member today)
Want just a quick preview? Below are video highlights of the podcast
More Gary Martin: Paul Streleckis Had Never Coached a Sub-5:00 Miler. Then Gary Martin Entered His Life.
*Gary Martin & Connor Burns Make History as Two High School Boys Go Sub-4 in the Same Race For First Time Ever